According to news reports, Glee star Mark Salling is dead at age 35 from an apparent suicide. Salling pleaded guilty to possession of over 50,000 images of child pornography in 2017. He was awaiting his sentencing and was facing up to seven years in prison.
As a talented, successful, prominent young man, Mark Salling does not fit our society’s stereotypical image of someone who might be susceptible to seeking out and possessing child sexual exploitation images. However, this tragic case shows that a person does not need to belong to any particular demographic, sector of society, or income level to become involved in child pornography.
News reports do not make clear whether Salling’s addiction started with child pornography, or with other forms of adult pornography. While factors that lead a person to seek out child pornography may vary, research tells us that compulsive sexual behavior is characterized by novelty-seeking, habituation, and conditioning, meaning that users need more extreme content over time to achieve the same level of arousal. These are all symptoms of addiction.
This high profile case is tragic, both for Salling’s victims—his pornography collection is actually an archive of victims of child sexual abuse—and for the actor himself, who Glee producer Tim Davis described as a ‘broken man.’ It is also an opportunity to reflect upon the destructive influence of pornography and sexual exploitation more generally, which harm both the victims, and ultimately, those perpetrating the abuse.
Written by Haley Halverson, Vice President Of Advocacy and Outreach